Emergency budget cuts by the US government could slow progress toward the country's first commercial lease auctions for offshore wind projects.
Reductions in US government spending, introduced at the end of last week, risk undermining the ability of government officials to review and permit offshore wind and other renewable energy projects, according to outgoing Department of Interior (DoI) leader, Ken Salazar.
"We’re not going to have the same capacity for the remainder of this year that we had last year," Salazar warned his audience at an offshore wind energy conference in Boston.
President Barack Obama has signed to enact $85bn in budget reductions, to be implemented between now and the end of the current US government fiscal year, on 30 September. This is the so-called "sequester" and was required after US lawmakers failed to agree an alternative plan. A report from the US Office of Budget Management says non-defense programmes will face spending cuts of about 9% over the next seven months.
Salazar predicted delays in reviewing and permitting energy projects on federal lands and in federal waters, hindering the progress the DoI has made in "transitioning from planning to commercial leasing for offshore wind."
The cuts mean fewer studies, fewer opportunities to obtain meaningful stakeholder input, and delays in identification of potential use conflicts for renewable energy projects, said a DoI news release following Salazar’s speech. "The result could be a slower pace in identifying and leasing wind energy areas in federal waters."
The slowdown comes at a sensitive time for the US offshore wind sector, as the DoI has been planning to launch this year the first commercial lease auctions for designated wind energy areas (WEAs) off Virginia, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Together, these WEAs have the potential to support more than 4GW of wind generation capacity.